WCED's Priority to Reduce Absenteeism at Schools
A key priority for the Western Cape Government is to improve education outcomes of our learners.
However, one of the real threats to improved learner performance is learner absenteeism. Learners that are frequently absent from school can fall behind in their classwork, which can often affect their final results.
This can also be disruptive to the “flow” of the curriculum in the classroom when an educator has to repeat work that has already been covered in the classroom.
Some learners are absent for legitimate health reasons. Others, however, are simply pretending to be sick or are bunking school for various reasons.
That is why the management of absenteeism at our schools is extremely important. If schools monitor the absenteeism trends of learners, they can crack down on absenteeism more effectively, thus improving school attendance.
In February 2010 I announced that, over the next few years, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) intended to reduce the absenteeism rate of learners in our schools, in line with international norms, by 2%.
I am pleased to announce that we have managed to reach this target.
The absenteeism rate in the 2009 school year was 7.7%. This figure has consistently declined over the three years that followed.
The figure decreased to 6.9% in 2010, to 5.9% in 2011 and 5.7% in 2012.
In 2013, the absenteeism rate in the first two quarters is 4.1% in the first term and 5.9% in the second term, with an average of 5%.
These figures are encouraging and I would like to appeal to all parents and learners to continue along this trend in the third and fourth terms.
We do usually see a spike in learner absenteeism in the middle of the school year. We suspect it is health related, given that the number of outpatient figures for children in our province’s hospitals (Age seven to 18 years) increases over that period. For example, 2 373 more children visited provincial hospitals in July 2012, compared to January 2012.
The WCED have also put in place stricter monitoring mechanisms to improve the management of absenteeism in our schools.
The WCED monitors absenteeism on a quarterly basis, using our Centralised Education Management Information Systems Programme (CEMIS).
The principal inserts the absenteeism numbers at his/her school and signs off on it at the end of each quarter.
Schools are also required to monitor which learners are frequently absent from school.
The policy on learner attendance published in May 2010 stipulates the responsibilities of the learner, school, parents and the education department.
It states that should a learner be absent for three consecutive days without explanation the class teacher must report this to the principal. The school should follow up with parents regarding the absenteeism. The incident should also be reported to the education department for further follow up should the learner still not return to school after seven days.
When truancy is reported to the district office, the parents are contacted and an appointment is set for a home visit by a safety worker. At this visit the parents are made aware of their responsibility to ensure that the learner returns to school, citing the relevant legal requirements:
Constitutional obligation of the parents to send their child to school
Section 3 (1) of the South African Schools Act (SASA), (Act No 84 of 1996) clearly states that “every parent and or caregiver must cause every learner for whom he or she is responsible to attend a school of the year in which such learner reaches the age of seven years until the last day of the year in which such a learner reaches the age of fifteen years or the ninth grade, whichever occurs first.”
In some cases, there is just cause for the learner being absent.
In cases where the learner is not being supported by the parents, the safety fieldworker will contact social services. In cases where the learner refuses to attend school, the WCED arranges a meeting between the learner and a psychologist.
Ultimately, the responsibility for attendance and punctuality should not just rest on the school’s shoulders. Parents have a major role to play in ensuring that their children are afforded a full year of teaching time.”
If parents want their child to succeed, they need to be clear that skipping school will have a negative effect on his or her education.
Parents can help improve the absenteeism rate by taking an active interest in their child’s education, encouraging them to take part in school activities, discussing any problems that they might have at school, and by having a communicable relationship with their teachers.
If parents find that their children are consistently late for school, they should teach them to wake up on their own, prepare for unexpected delays in traffic, or ensure that they are placed on safe and reliable transport wherever possible and, finally, teach them the importance of "time on task" and "punctuality".
I would like to encourage the whole province to assist the WCED in curbing absenteeism levels even further.
We need the public to assist us in reporting truant learners. The public can contact any of our district offices or the safe schools hotline on 0800 454647 to report truant learners.
If we all play our role we can make learner attendance Better Together.